When you’re hit with a sudden anxiety attack all you want to do is get rid of it as quickly as you possibly can. You might find this hard to believe but you can stop anxiety fast using your five senses.
Your five senses are one of your best natural defenses against anxiety and panic attacks (the other being your breathing). The fear that you feel is powered by your amygdala, the most ancient and primal part of your brain. Back in the long-ago days, the amygdala saved our lives. It’s what controls the reaction you commonly refer to as “fight or flight” these days. If you were out hunting and gathering and you suddenly spotted a wild animal that was a threat to you, you didn’t have time to stop and debate whether you should fight it off, run away, or climb a tree – your amygdala told you to react and you did. Long, drawn out decision making could kill you. Kicking into high gear saved you.
That’s great, and fascinating, and frankly I could read about the amygdala all day long (and I have on several occasions!). The unfortunate part is that often our anxiety isn’t particularly useful. We aren’t running from tigers, we’re just trying to get through the work day or parent our kids. The anxiety we feel has been created by overly busy lifestyles where there’s often a certain pride in being over-worked, over-scheduled, and over-stressed. I always refer to my own anxiety as being caused by a “fight or flight mechanism with a faulty trip-wire.”
When you use your five senses to fight back against anxiety you’re using a technique called “grounding”. See, as amazing as the amygdala is, it’s not a multi-tasker (and neither are you, but that’s a blog post for another day!). It can’t freak out and be logical or analytical at the same time. Basically, going through your five senses forces your brain to focus on what is real and here now, which makes it impossible for it to panic about something that isn’t even an existing threat.
Here’s how it works! You go through each of the five senses and ask yourself what relates to each one in your immediate environment. No matter where you are – don’t use an imaginary location, you’re trying to ground yourself in the present moment so stick with where you actually are. And take your time. I know I said this is a fast way to get rid of anxiety and it is, but don’t rush it. Really soak in every sense before moving on to the next one.Stop your anxiety fast by using your five senses! Click To Tweet
Ask yourself, “what do I see?” Look around and maybe you see a blue sky or a woman wearing a bright green sweater. You don’t need to answer the question out loud, just acknowledge to yourself what you see.
Ask yourself, “what do I hear?” Maybe you hear traffic driving by your window. You might hear your co-workers chatting to each other or your child watching television. The beauty of this particular meditation is that you don’t need absolute silence – in fact, some noise actually helps, rather than hinders.
Ask yourself, “what do I smell?” You might catch a whiff of someone’s perfume or trace scents of your fabric softener. Maybe you can smell a co-worker’s lunch heating up or the fresh breeze on a spring day. Don’t judge whether they are pleasant smells or not, just acknowledge their presence.
Ask yourself, “what can I taste?” If you’ve just eaten it might be an obvious answer. You might taste the tuna sandwich you just ate for lunch, or maybe the cinnamon flavor of the gum you’re chewing. However, even if you’re not actively eating, every mouth has some sort of taste. Does your palate taste bitter? Metallic? Take some time to identify it.
Ask yourself, “what can I touch?” Place your hands on something. What do you feel under your fingertips? Is it the smooth wood of your desk? A warm plastic keyboard? You can also extend this to things that are touching you – the wind blowing on your face or your long hair brushing against your shoulders. Feel everything.
Bonus – Feel
Speaking of feel – it can also be beneficial to do a bonus investigation of how you feel emotionally. It seems obvious if you’re having an anxiety attack that you’re not feeling great, but try putting words to it. “I feel unsettled. I feel scared. I feel dizzy.” It might sound counter-intuitive to acknowledge it, but naming your anxious feelings gives you power. Remember that this exercise is all about being in this very moment, so acknowledging your anxiety is part of that.
Once you’re done, take a moment to analyze where your anxiety levels are right now. If you’re feeling better, then going through your senses once may do the trick and you can get on with your day.
On the other hand, if you’re still at a 10 on the Anxiety Richter Scale (so to speak), then go through your senses again. Either focus on the same ones that you did the first time or challenge yourself to find a new sight, smell, taste, etc.
Properly focusing your attention on what is really truly happening in this moment will force your amygdala to ease up. It’s an incredible way to treat your own anxiety in a completely natural way.